Old-school heavy metal is experiencing a revival lately, with many new bands summoning the dark spirits of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and we've been tracking that trend on these pages – especially when it comes to bands who tap into the themes of evil forces, occult ceremonies, black magic and terrifying creatures from beyond. Horror and metal have always gone hand-in-hand, even before metal was splintered into hundreds of different colors and flavors, but early bands like Venom and Mercyful Fate put their scary themes first and foremost. That's why I'm glad I came across the sounds of Brooklyn metal combo Natur, who remind me a lot of those legendary acts. They've been working hard in the New York underground for years, but they made a huge international splash when Fenriz, one-half of Norwegian black metal legends Darkthrone, picked them as one of his “Bands of the Week” and scored them a slot in his notorious Live Evil tour. That endorsement helped bump them to the next level of notoriety, including a contract with Earache Records and their first full-length album, Head of Death.
I got to chat with Natur's lead vocalist Ryan Weibust about the band's allegiance to classic metal, his love of horror movies, and the spooky themes the band explores in their new record. At the end of the interview below, be sure to listen to “Vermin Rift,” one of their most sinister and epic tracks.
Hey Ryan... thanks for joining us, and congrats on the release of your first full-length.
No problem, thanks!
What kind of feedback have you been getting on Head of Death?
We've been getting great feedback, mostly from Europe, since it's not out in the US yet. Some people get it, some people don't. Hails to those that do.
When I first heard your music, I felt a connection to Mercyful Fate... then I noticed you credit them as one of your influences.
My infatuation with Mercyful Fate began when the guitarist Antone Silva from my old band Demassek turned me on to them.
What about them inspired you the most?
There's just something truly amazing about that band. The songs are all so dark and sinister, but catchy at the same time. There's a very fine line between a song being catchy rather than cheesy. I think they accomplished that perfectly and that was the aspect that we tried to embrace from them. I can't imagine how sick it must have been to see them in their prime. I've seen King Diamond before, but to see the original Fate lineup must have been insane.
I hear elements of Sabbath and Priest too, maybe a touch of Venom.
Those are all bands we draw from in one way or another. Trouble is another band that has a huge influence on us.
I think you've captured the same knack for memorable riffs that those bands share.
I just love a heavy riff. It doesn't have to be complex; it just has to send that charge through your bones. I think that's something that all those bands have in common that we really grasped onto. Two other lesser known bands that have a big influence on us are Big World and Quarter Ton and Change from Rhode Island, which is [Natur drummer] Tooth's and my home state. Big World showed us how to put on a truly unforgettable show, and Quarter Ton gave us that "fuck you" attitude. If you listen to Quarter Ton's riffs, they are pure evil.
I'll definitely check them out. You've got some seriously evil tracks of your own on this record, especially "Spider Baby."
Thank you! That's one of our oldest songs. When we were throwing band name ideas around, our friend Erin McCord suggested Spider Baby.
I'm a huge fan of the movie too. What led you to write a song about it?
I'd never seen or heard of the movie before, so Erin let me borrow it. Immediately after watching it, I wanted to show it to everyone who hadn't seen it. It's such a great movie and platform for a song. I love the stripped-down production and the ideas behind the Merrye Syndrome.
Did the song come to you immediately when you watched the film?
The vocal melody just came to me one day in my living room. That's generally how my mind works with writing songs. You can sit and try and make yourself write a song till the cows come home, but riffs and melodies usually come when you least expect them.
What are some of your other favorite horror movies?
I've always had this weird obsession with horror... there's something very beautiful and real about death. As a kid, I used to collect masks and fake severed body parts [laughs]. I've always been most fond of the more psychological horror movies; there's something so frightening about not knowing exactly whats hunting or haunting you. You just know it's there and can come and go as it pleases. I'm also a sucker for any low budget slasher film. Some of my all time favorite films that come to mind are The Wicker Man, Basket Case, The Sentinel, Things, The Shining, and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
You mentioned Things... I'm not familiar with that film.
It's a low-budget film that my friend Evan Husney gave me. It's about this dude who makes his wife undergo some sketchy experiment in order to produce a child for him. Instead, these horrible creatures, these things, grow inside of her and eat their way out, and have a hunger for any torso they can get their teeth on. A truly horrific movie.
I'll be seeking that one out. Any other films you're looking forward to?
I haven't heard of anything new that I wanna see lately. It seems like people have run out of ideas and are just remaking all the classics, but making them worse by adding a bunch of CGI. People really need to get back to the old style of prosthetics and latex. Blood is supposed to look ugly and organic, not like a video game.
You're among friends here then. Speaking of old-style horror, I thought your song "Mutations in Maine" might be an homage to Stephen King.
You could say it's connected to Stephen King in one way... but it's mostly about having a bad trip in the forest in Whitnyville, Maine. It's based around this party called Robstock that we used to go to every summer. It's in the middle of nowhere in Northern Maine, at our friend Rob Collinson's cabin. Everyone camps out, bands play and most of us take mushrooms. Mushrooms are usually a great time, but there's always that chance that they can go the wrong direction and you're stuck running from your demons for hours. Our friend Max had a bad experience like that one year, and I drew on a lot of that for the song. I just remember him sitting in his tent clutching a bible, saying "They're going to get us," over and over. We did get wasted one night up there and attempt to call Stephen King... his phone number is a hard one to track down. That's about all the song has to do with him.
What's the story behind the song "Goblin Shark”?
We wrote that song when Shark Week had just begun, and I remember seeing the Goblin Shark episode and thinking it would be a great creature to write a song about. As the song began to take shape, we came up with a more narrative theme for it. We loosely based it on our late friend Danny Anderson. He had this great boat named the Solveig G that he used to take us out on in the summertime. We made up a crazy story that he got knocked into the sea by a bolt of lightning and his crew were too drunk to notice he was missing. Then a goblin shark finds him and keeps him captive under the sea until he escapes to reclaim his ship. Danny discovers his ship and murders his crew, as the shark has possessed his mind in order to reign over the open sea for eternity.
That's seriously creepy. Do you draw on your own fears or nightmares when you write songs?
I've always been really scared of aliens... but we don't have a song about them yet.
Hopefully on the next record! So what's coming up this year?
We just finished up an East Coast tour with Occvlta from Germany; they're a great dirty black metal band that everyone should check out. Now we're just going to continue to promote the album, work on new stuff and watch more horror movies.
For US fans, Head of Death is available for pre-order via Earache Records' webstore.